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Once the Innovators, Arsenal Getting Left Behind As Football Changes

We should be worried. Hell, we should be damn near frustrated as hell. Hull City has been bought by a Chinese owner. Supposedly his net worth is £5.5bn. Guess what happens next? Can’t wait for Hull City to “build” their way to the top.

There is a simple fact that Arsenal just don’t seem to comprehend – football in 2016 (and beyond) is different. The whole paradigm has changed and while “living within our means” is laudable it doesn’t have to mean that you continue to operate as if nothing has changed.

Let’s face it – what started off by Roman Abramovich buying Chelsea’s way to titles and into elite status has morphed into something bigger than probably even Roman imagined (or wanted.)  Now on the back of a bumper TV deal and increased riches within the Premier League, all clubs are buying players with an opening value of around £25-£30m.

Of course that’s not true if you are a continental club. On the continent you can still purchase at bargain and do quite well – look at Dortmund if you want evidence. However, everyone knows England is flush with cash and a bargain is only going to be had if you consider £25m a bargain these days.

However, as the Premier League has grown, Arsenal, once considered the leading innovators within the league are quickly being left behind specifically when it comes to the financial realities all English clubs are operating under.

Take this from Ivan Gazidis:

Leicester identified players from the French second division, so maybe there’s talent that we’ve been overlooking. They did their talent identification well, they had great unity within the group, as well as quality.

“It wasn’t built on money. It was built on the great fitness work they did. It was built on all of these other elements. I think that’s going to be a continuing trend within the Premier League.”

Let’s be honest, Leicester’s achievement of winning the league was an amazing feat. Not to take anything away from them but had Chelsea, United and City all been operating as normal last season, does anyone think they would’ve really won it? Hell, had even Arsenal held its nerve it could’ve been different.

When Leicester did win it, it wasn’t some amazing feat built off of great fitness. It was a lightning strike moment. And given the big clubs will spend to avoid losing commercial revenue if they don’t return to their winning ways – it’s one that will be hard to repeat.

So Ivan tells us we are going to build off of looking in lower leagues and adopting a Leicester scouting strategy. It’s something he hinted at even before this summer. But the fact remains – you need to invest in the squad. Wenger even hinted that the TV money coming would have to go to player investment:

What will happen is the prices of the players will go up and you will need this supplement of money coming in to buy new players.

At least he sees it. But even if he does, the club doesn’t seem to be moving in the direction that the rest of league is.

Now before we go any further, I am not suggesting we spend just to spend. But Ivan has said in his ESPN interview that Arsenal are bitterly disappointed to not win the league last season. That they want to win it. But from the outside in it doesn’t look like that they accept that things have changed.

Now, I am not advocating spending wildly. Personally I think spending €94m to activate Gonzalo Higuain’s release clause is ridiculous – especially for someone in the dusk of his career. For one player that’s just too much.

Smart buys that fill the needs of the club make sense. The fee for Xhaka looks like a steal based on his performances in the Euros. He will be able to provide pace and passing from the deep part of midfield that was missing last season. Add to that his grit, and he is the epitome of a smart buy. Even the move for Vardy could be construed as smart.

Here was a player who lead the league in goals scored and just won POTY. He had a relatively low release clause, and Arsenal made the move. By all accounts the only thing standing in the way of Vardy signing was Vardy’s cold feet.

Arsenal have always been innovators, throughout our history we’ve been forward thinking and brought innovation to the game. From Chapman to Wenger, the history of the club is peppered with innovation. Even the move to the Emirates was based on the foresight that the football landscape was changing and Arsenal needed to be out in front of that.

Ever since that move, though, the foresight has dried up. It’s said we’re leading the way in data and analytics, psychology and fitness. That’s all well and good and it addresses things going on in the club right now. It is not moving with the rest of the footballing world with regard to the financial realities we must operate in.

They have to accept that finding diamonds in the rough of Ligue 2 in France is a matter of luck. The reality is money has to be spent to get the talent you seek. If you seek an immediate impact. Based on the needs, signing prospects is okay, but the need for players that can come in and immediately offer something is a must.

Arsenal have to accept that their ideas and principles are great – they should be applauded for them but it’s akin to being the guy who should win the high school president’s race – you know he should, but the most popular kid is offering free ice cream so forget principles and give me free ice cream.

We shouldn’t rest on our ideals. No one is saying the stuff we are doing to be innovators in the game shouldn’t be done, but we need to accept the fact that the way the transfer and finance side of that business is being done these days has changed dramatically – we need to change dramatically too.

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